Did Gov. Ryan accept bribes or just favors?

July 20, 2012

Download Story
(WBEZ/Robert Wildeboer)
Former Illinois Gov. James Thompson represents Gov. George Ryan.

Attorneys for imprisoned former Ill. Gov. George Ryan were back in the federal appeals court Friday, arguing that the jury that convicted Ryan didn’t necessarily find he took bribes. They say the jury may have simply found him guilty of failing to disclose conflicts of interest when he doled out state contracts to friends who had done him favors, including helping pay for his daughter’s wedding and giving him access to vacation homes.

The distinction between bribery and favors for friends is an important one. In 2010, in the case of former Enron executive Jeffrey Skilling, the U.S. Supreme Court found that parts of the honest service law were unconstitutional. The court ruled that prosecutors had to prove bribery. Ryan was convicted under the same law and the ruling gave new life to his appeals.

Ryan's lawyers say the evidence at Ryan's trial showed he got favors from friends and those friends got some plum contracts from the government; but they were just favors, they weren't bribes.

Ryan attorney Andrea Lyon says, prior to the Supreme Court ruling, prosecutors were using the honest services law to criminalize all sorts of activity.

“The United State's Supreme Court reigned them in and said, bribes, yes," says Lyon. "Having friends, talking to lobbyists, that's not a crime and so he is serving time now for something that is no longer a crime.”

Former Illinois Gov. James Thompson is also representing Ryan. He says Ryan is set to be released in a year, though he’s eligible for release to a halfway house in January.